Teresa Mars, wife of Ray Mars.
October 7, 2001, was the first time I heard anything about a hurricane
in the area where Ray was. I cannot understand, to this day, why
I did not know before. We always checked out the weather reports
before we traveled, but for some reason, I have no memory of that
before this Belize trip. There were lots of things going on at
that time. 9/11 had just happened, less than 4 weeks
earlier. We were all still reeling from that horror, even though
we did not know anyone personally involved, at least at that
time. My mother was concerned about Ray flying, as were so many
others in our country, but Ray assured us that he was not concerned
about flying at all. He believed that true precautions were being
taken at airports all over, so did not worry about that part of the
trip. We were not concerned about the actual diving part, either,
any more than usual, because Ray was so very careful, a serious man,
who loved life, loved his family, and his friends, and would never have
put himself in harm's way, not intentionally.
The news crawl began reporting about Hurricane Iris, that it was headed for the coastline of Belize. It was predicted to intensify, and become a very dangerous storm, a deadly storm. I felt real fear then, very worried about Ray. However, we had been in the Turks and Caicos Islands a few years earlier, when Hurricane Bonnie came simewhat close to the island we were on, and I remembered the extreme precautions taken by everryone on the island, from the hotel, to the dive shop and boats, to restaurants, stores, everywhere. I figured that the same kind of precautions would be taken aboard the Wave Dancer, so I tried not to be too worried.
The next morning, as I prepared to leave for work, Ray called from the Wave Dancer. I was really shocked to hear his voice, and he told me that they were on their way to a "hurricane haven", Big Creek, where Captain Martin had assured them that they would be just fine. Phillip Martin had told the divers that if they got off the boat, they would miss several days of diving, but if they stayed onboard as the hurricane passed, they would only miss one day. Ray specifically told me that Martin said those very words, so there is no doubt that he did. We all know now how that lie turned out. Phillip Martin had not even bothered to check the weather reports, being broadcast everywhere, or else he did know, and through the direction of Peter Hughes or at his own ignorance, decided that nothing like that could possibly happen, and there was no way he wanted to miss any money. Money seems to have ruled everything done that horrible day. I was very upset that Ray had called, never expecting that, and he could only talk for a couple of minutes as several other people were waiting their turn on the phone. I started feeling like he was saying good-bye. I went to work, because I did not know what else to do, but was scared all day.
Upon returning home that evening, I turned on the TV immediately, and discovered that Hurricane Iris had indeed made a direct hit on Belize, in fact exactly where Ray had been taken. I started calling the infamous 24-hour emergency line for Peter Hughes, the one that he had assured all his passengers that they or their families would be able to get someone at any time, immediately, of the day or night. I was crying, screaming, begging for someone to call me, but no one ever did. I was awake all night, watching the time pass on the clock, one minute at a time. I was trying so hard to relax, even a little, but that was not possible.
At about 4:40am, Tuesday, October 9, my phone rang, and I immediately thought it just had to be Ray, telling me that they were all OK, and where he was. But, instead, a woman's voice came on the line, one I did not recognize, identifying herself as Jenny Chappell, from the Richmond Dive Club. I was still hoping that she was making the calls to let everyone know that their loved one was OK. When she actually said the words, "The boat that Ray was on has capsized." I could not make sense of the words. I kept asking her to repeat herself, asked more and more questions, that she seemed not to have any answers for, not wanting to let go of the connection. But, she had many more calls to make, so I had to hang up. For about 2 hours, I just laid there, immobile, numb, scared, crying, staring at the ceiling, willing the phone to ring. The only information she had been able to give me was that Ray was listed as "missing". As far as I could think, that meant he was gone, because if you are missing, in a boat upside down in the water, you must have drowned. I could not imagine any other scenario. At about 7:30 am, I called work, to tell them I would not be in, and why. My very good friend was the one who answered the phone, thank God. She wanted to come over immediately, but I told her I would be all right by myself. She told a few of the people there that I was close to, and they all wanted to come over. I kept saying I would be all right alone. I didn't know what else to do. I started walking all over the house, looking for any and all shreds of information I had on the Wave Dancer, and the passenger list. Ray had indeed been supposed to be on the Aggressor, but shortly before the trip, was switched to the Wave Dancer, to room with Buddy Webb, because another diver had taken ill. Ray liked Buddy, had gotten to know him well the year before, on the Sun Dancer, and had been dive buddies with him several times. He was so pleased to be on the Wave Dancer, because he knew he would already know almost everyone. There was no way he could have suspected anything, who would? But, the Aggressor captain went back to dock on Sunday night, not Monday morning, thus making the difference between life and death. I also started making phone calls, to the Coast Guard, the U.S. Embassy in Belize, the State Department in Washington, D.C., anywhere and everywhere I could think of. None of those calls yielded any information or help. I cannot even begin to explain the sheer desperation I was feeling, the helplessness, the absolute fear.
About 11am, one of my friends from work did come over, saying she did not want me to be alone, as I had been so far. I did not call any family member or friend, because I still had a flicker of hope that somehow Ray would be all right. He was such a strong, capable man, it did not seen possible that he could have been killed. It just was not in my thinking, I could not get it in my mind at all. Sandy and I waited for hours, waiting for the phone to ring, and calling Hughes Diving, and others on our cell phones, never getting even an answer to the ringing of the phone. Early in the afternoon, our neighbor, Doug, called from his work, and asked me if I wanted him to come home. I couldn't figure out why he would ask such a thing, how could he possibly know anything? But, he said it had started being broadcast on the news, and then I became very concerned about notifying so many people, and what to say,and how to say it. Right after that, one of the secretaries from Ray's work called, asking me if Ray was on that boat. His love of diving was known to everyone, so they all knew where he was. She started just screaming when I told her he was. Then another good friend, one who worked with Ray, Denise, called and asked if she could come over. She and Ray were really good friends, so she was also quite upset. She came over right away, and practically lived at the house with other family and friends for a week. I was watched over constantly, by many people, and they all did so very much for me, I almost did not have to get out of the chair.
My major concern right then was how to notify our son, who was on a trip to Florida with some friends. They had all gone to a Miami Dolphins game on Sunday, his father's favorite team, and he was planning to get many souveniers for Ray from the stadium. I got one of Ray, Jr.'s other friends to contact him, and have him call me. He just fell apart when I told him what had happened, and that was even before anyone had seen fit to give me the correct information. I know that it was well known that Ray was among the victims, but no one would tell me. Raymond got on a plane very soon after that phone call, and had to make a stopover in Philadelphia, on the way to Baltimore. He did not know the fate of his father on that whole flight, so it was a horribly painful, terrifying time for him, also he was alone. I was beyond hysteria in trying to figure out what to do to help him, but there was nothing. It was truly a nightmare.
More and more friends came over, and we all were calling everyone and anyone we could think of, again on our cell phones, leaving the house phone free, waiting for the news we all dreaded. No one ever called, definitely not Peter Hughes, who later said he did, but that a man answered at my home, and said I was unavailable. The only man present at that time was Doug, our neighbor and friend, who did not answer my phone, and would never have said anything like that anyway. Yet another lie by Peter Hughes. And how completely insulting to all of us. Finally just before 6:30pm, Jenny Chappel called back, telling me to call the U.S. Consulate in D.C., but to wait 10 minutes, as she had to call them first. I think she may have known what I would be told, but I hold no bad feelings for her, in the giving of information. She was in a really horrible situation, having to tell so many people such awful news, and many of them people she did not know at all, like me. So, I called at 6:44pm, and was put on hold for what seemed a very long time. Finally, an Ian Brownlee got on the phone, and told me how sorry he was. Keep in mind that he had not told me anything factually yet, nor had anyone else. Literally, my heart sank, but I managed to ask him what he was sorry about, since I still had not been told what had happened to the most important person in my world. He finally said that Ray had been identified, and was dead. The real truth is that it had been almost 22 hours since Ray had been identified, and no one had been concerned enough to let me know till then. All those hours I was so scared, so worried, so absolutely out of my mind, there was a very good reason for. Then, I got off the phone, and all those with me in the house already knew by my conversation what had happened. I then had to call family back, telling them that Ray was not missing, but had been killed. No one could believe it, in fact, none of us have been able to actually grasp it in reality yet. I don't think it ever will really seem possible, even though it is all too painfully clear that I am alone, without the most wonderful man in the world, and it truly is the worst thing that could ever happen. Ray, Jr. called me on the layover in Philadelphia, so I had to tell him the truth, over the phone. The most painful words I have ever spoken to anyone.
So, it was over 14 hours from the time Jenny called me that morning, till Ian Brownlee, in his stupid, bumbling way, that Ray was dead. What a stupid, horrible person he was for me to hear that news from. It continued to seem that if anything else bad could happen, it would. Then, we can begin the wait about when the bodies would be returned, the beginning of several days of back and forth, back and forth, different stories from each person I talked to. I had really desccended into the lowest level of Hell possible.
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